Learning is a process of ongoing experimentation...
A few weeks ago, a friend and I were browsing the Sporting Goods section at Walmart and I happened to spot DURAFLAME fire starters. These were individually wrapped 6 oz. blocks priced at about .89 cents. I've used Duraflame fireplace logs in the home, but had never really thought of them for field use camping. You've probably seen these...they are essentially a composite log made of sawdust mixed with some kind of proprietary waxy material, creating a long-lasting fireplace log.
I've used COGHLANS Tinder Sticks with good results. They are a similar composition and can ignited intact or can be shredded using a pocket knife to create a long burning tinder. I decided that I would pick one of the Duraflame starters up and add it to my fire bag. I like having a lot of options for getting a fire started. I've been out enough times to learn that not every thing works all the time.
Recently I started subscribing to Prepper Ralph a self-reliance YOUTUBE channel [prepperralph.com], and eventually joined his Facebook group the Black Crow Survivalists which describe themselves as "...Taking a look at the darker more grungy side of preparedness. Not for the faint of heart...". I like that. I'm not a prepper per se, but have never doubted that if [when] a disaster strikes, given desperate circumstances, the "Rule of Law" that governs society rapidly devolves into "The Law of the Jungle" [Look at footage of the Rodney King Riots or Hurricane Katrina looters if you doubt this].
Anyway, Ralph recently issued a challenge to the group to put up a video demonstrating fire making skills. I decided this was a good time to try out the Duraflame block and see how it worked. I also decided I would use the fire as an opportunity to make some fresh char cloth. Removing it from the package, I could see that it could easily be quartered and enough to place one in more than one trail bag or bugout kit, if you wished to do so. Using my Emerson's serrated edge, I scraped a pile of material from the block. Here is my video of the Duraflame fire:
Once the fire was established, I placed cotton material into a tin and began making char cloth. Making char cloth has been very hit & miss, at least for me. I have turned out great batches and completely CRAP batches. And I've had batches in which some of the char worked great and some not at all. But one thing I have learned is don't throw it out! Sometimes it won't take a spark from your striker but works just fine with a ferro rod.
The other thing is that it may not be your char at all, but the steel striker isn't tempered well and thus isn't producing a hot enough spark to ignite the char. Be careful before you plunk down cash for a custom forged striker and make sure it is made by a reputable smith. A file can sometimes be used, and I have had hit and miss luck with files...some throw sparks like crazy and others not so much...there seems to be a lot of variation in temper. Here is my video demonstrating the completed char cloth:
The striker in this kit is from a FIRE IN FIVE commercial kit I purchased when I first started learning this skill. The best char material I ever had came in the FIRE N FIVE kit, and was some kind of shredded cotton fabric and was just incredible. The originator of that kit BTW, was an old Navy veteran...I picked it up in the mid 90's at RAY'S BEAVER BAG, a muzzle-loading store on the Vegas strip. That gent that developed the FIRE IN FIVE has passed, but somebody still markets that kit, though I do not know if it is the same char fabric as before in the current kit.
Flint....folks, there is no Flint here in the USA...just Chert. Finding good Chert with a sharp edge is an essential, or pay money and by some nice shards of English flint. You can also knap the edge of Chert and restore a nice sharp edge. This is what Buckskinners that shoot flintlock rifles and muskets do...they just tune the rock up in the jaws of the lock...don't even remove it. Survival Preacher is up in Indiana and found what appears to be a big chunk of English Flint in his yard. I am guessing it might have been brought here for trade or to render into flints for rifle locks, and may be a couple of centuries old...there was some serious fighting up in that old Northwest Frontier country in the 1700's.
Something else to add to your fire bag or kit is a magnifying glass [burning lens]. I found a pair of broken binoculars on the side of the road and harvested the objective lenses and they are incredible....big, thick ground glass lens will cook anything. I've re-started charred campfire wood using the lens. Historical reenactor Keith Burgess has used lens to ignite tinder. Some Frontiersmen used brass tinder boxes with a burning lens set in the lid.
Historically accurate tinder box
One final suggestion for tinder....Bracket fungus [Horseshoe fungus]. This is a fungus that grows on Oaks. Once it establishes it can become very large with a very tough, hard exterior. You can scrape the interior material into a fluff and it'll catch a spark and smolder as an ember. Aboriginal peoples in the U.K. used it, striking flint and Magnetite [Pyrite] to create sparks and catch them on the fluff. They could also set the bracket fungus disk smoldering and carry it to take fire with them to their next camp.
Fortunately, these days we have modern resources to make fire, but like the aboriginal peoples, we need to practice our skills and learn them well. In a modern survival situation, such as a lost hiker, making fire is critical to maintaining warmth to avoid hypothermia and signaling help. Experiment, Practice, LEARN.